Thursday, 13 May 2010

Eric Pickles as Minister for Localism?

For all his bluff Yorkshire bonhomie, Eric Pickles is not only a fully paid-up member of the metropolitan political class but a centrist. He's not the man to loosen the bonds that have made local government no more than an extension of Whitehall; indeed, he looks likely to continue the rule by diktat from the centre of our rubbish collections, street lighting and parks.

With Labour having bounced back at local level from the kicking they took in 2006, the death of New Labour will leave the door open to a resurgence of radical local opposition to Cameron's government in a repeat of the loony rainbow coalitions in the town halls that challenged Thatcher in the 1980s. Eric's every instinct will be to pull the control noose even more tightly to strangle dissent - and this is completely the wrong answer.

If the good voters of the People's Republic of South Yorkshire are willing to pay double their present Council Tax to keep their healthy eating co-ordinators and walking encouragement advisors in post, why not? The Conservatives more than anyone should support giving Socialist local government all the rope it needs to hang itself.

So abolish capping, and with it all the Whitehall micro-management of exactly how many pieces of litter are permissible on a suburban street during weekday daylight hours (and this isn't a joke - Whitehall actually issues standard photographs to local councils to show exactly what the statutory limit of 0.1 litter units per m2 looks like) and all the rest of the constipated anally retentive bureaucratic dross that emanates from the fusty trouser region of Eric's new department.

At the same time, reduce the Rate Support Grant or whatever it's called these days by 10%. With the level of gearing in council finance, councils will either have to cut dross or raise council tax by 25% to cover the shortfall.

Good councils will cope, bad ones will fail and be rejected by their voters. But whatever they do, it must be their decision, not Eric's.

But will Pickles be able to resist the temptation to 'go native' in his new department and cement Whitehall's ruthless centrism? About as much as he can resist a Full English, I'd think.


The Great Simpleton said...

But will Pickles be able to resist the temptation to 'go native' in his new department and cement Whitehall's ruthless centrism?

Will 'e eckers like. He hasn't spent all those years in opposition ogling the power of minister, the cars, the fawning civil servants, the boondoggles and all the rest of the trappings to give it all away.

Anonymous said...

Why only cut the Rate Support Grant by 10%? What on earth is central government doing in providing any money at all for local government activity, if not ensuring it has full control. Let local people make local decisions to raise local taxes to finance local expenditure. And let people vote with their feet (literally) if they don't like it.

Equally, national taxation must surely be spent only on things of national importance, such as the defence of the Realm.

And if the EU want some money, let them raise/impose it themselves. Now that should provoke a Tea Party moment!

William Gruff said...

Will the mythical, and Conservative voting, little old lady living alone in a large house, she who was used to justify the introduction of the unworkable community charge, be prepared to accept local democracy under a 'socialist' authority when she is once again paying through the nose for services she does not benefit from?

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Will, it depends on what kind of tax.

If it's local income or sales taxes, certainly she wouldn't mind.

If it's house tax or a poll tax deliberately designed to let the client state off lightly (which is probably what it will be) then there'll be more trouble.

But localism is the way to go, for all that.

As Radders says, give them enough rope to hang themselves with.

William Gruff said...

Why didn't I think of that?

Pat said...

If the education reform goes through, there will be no need for central funds to be given to local authorities for education- they will get the money via the parents instead. Creates a lot of scope to reduce direct funding of local authorities way more than 10%.
I can't remember the details, but I seem to recall that Hannan and Carswell had a further proposal for cutting the subsidy to local government- it could be eliminated entirely, without affecting the local tax rates too much.